Bad Monkey reading

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I went and saw matt_ruff read from Bad Monkeys last night at the University Bookstore. While the reading was sparsely attended (Matt has, for the record, done a very nice job blanketing Seattle area bookstores over the last month with readings and, as this was the last one, I’m not unduly surprised that he gets the dregs of folk who haven’t heard him yet), it was a lot of fun hearing him read some of Jane’s adventures. Bad Monkeys is the leading contender for my favorite book this year (ahead of Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies, which is saying something because I’m a pretty huge fan of the Gentlemen Bastards).

The book has been getting excellent reviews, including a recent one from The New York Times, so you shouldn’t simply run out and snag a copy because I’m all soft for it. Why do I love it? Because it has a wonderfully articulate and unreliable narrator in Jane Charlotte, a woman who is recruited by a secret organization (second reason to love the book) to fight evil. Not crime, not tyranny, and not generalized malignancy. EVIL. Much havoc and hilarity ensures. And a little poignancy. And some clever riffs on Philip K. Dick (third reason).

I keep meaning to write up some more in-depth thoughts about the book, but other things have been getting in the way. I’ll just leave you with the one paragraph I’ve got written so far. The What If?s are compounded, each a step more surreal than the last. Until the question asked is: what if Good and Evil wanted to be sure before they executed someone. How would they test the psychological foundations? How would they suss out the inner secrets? The hidden passions? The ultimate primary reason you or I or anyone acts? And then, once they’ve ascertained this deep, probably unconscious, secret, how would they be sure they’ve got the right answer?

A story about the little story that keeps going

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David De Beer is collecting nominations for his own Martian Approved Marshmallows (MAM) awards, i.e. his favorite selections of the fantasy, science fiction, and horror fiction of the year. He’s broken things down into a number of entertaining categories, and I would direct your attention to Weird-O-Thingamajigs, where he’s got stories by Jeff Vandermeer, Elizabeth Bear, Cat Rambo, Holly Philips, and Nisi Shawl. That’s a nice list. On recent update, there are now stories by Joseph Paul Haines, Samantha Henderson, Josh Roundtree, and, well, me.

There you have it. “How The Mermaid Lost Her Song” is having more legs than I ever thought it would. That tickles me. That someone thinks of it highly enough to put it on the same shelf as the above company tickles me even more.

Some thoughts on Spook Country

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I finished William Gibson’s Spook Country over the weekend, and I’m alternating between deep appreciation for some of his imagery and puzzlement over some of his sentence construction. My initial reaction was that the plot was slight, really nothing more than what you’d expect from an on-game comic book writer over a four-issue arc (Ellis, Rucka, Brubaker, for example–though, Ellis could have probably distilled it down to a single Global Frequency issue). As karmic payback/prank scenarios go, it’s pretty good, but there was just, eh, not much to it really. The real trick of the book though (and a lot of the reason I’m still ruminating about it several days later) is how Gibson makes everything ephemeral.

Everything vanishes, in the end. Everyone slips away into identities that aren’t really theirs. Events, which appear to have happened, may never be publicaly acknowledged (or spoken of again). The resolution of some character arcs happens off-screen (and, come on? but who doesn’t want to see that truck driver get his comeuppance at the border?), or not at all. The resolution of the envelope in the purse is a little too pat for comfort, but it adds a layer of unreality to the story. Organizations which are shadowy and vague in the beginning don’t gain any more clarity over the course of the book. Characters are referred to by descriptors, and that is all we ever get about them.

The book takes place in February of 2006, and it seems one of the selling points has been how Gibson has written a “historical” SF book (or “near-future,” if you like that better), but I think that’s also one of his ghostly tricks. By setting it last year, you wonder if you missed the revolution, or if you’ve missed the technological bubble. It sets you askew, by subtly asking if you’re not as savvy about the true nature of the world as you think. Is it all possible? Yes. Could it have happened, just like he says? Possibly. Are we safer, or less so? I don’t think it matters. I think Gibson has just told us a ghost story, and like all bonfire fairy tales, it’s up to us to decide if it is real or not. No, “real” is the wrong word. It is up to us to decide if we “believe” it.

Yes, that’s it. There is an awareness of how much a symbiotic relationship exists between audience and story-teller. In ten years, with this book be part of the canon of cultural history because it foresaw events (and ideas) or because it invented them? Or does the conscious placement of it in our past (instead of saying “NOW” on the first page) make it a fairy tale from the get-go?

Adventures in Acupuncture

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I’ve been going to an acupuncturist for a few weeks now. She’s very tolerant of the perverse joy I’ve been taking from being stuck up with needles (or hickied-up with the glass vacuum cup). It’s like the old joke about the octogenarian who has sex with his girlfriend at the doctor’s office because Medicare pays for the visit; I get to have psychedelic experiments (covered by insurance) without the headache of wondering what my drugs have been cut with or hanging out with the assholes who seemed to be the company that tags along when you’ve got a stash.

This week, we did a generalized course of qi flow, and as she was doing the points in my hands, legs, and feet, I felt like I was filling up with water. Each needle opened up another artesian source, and the water (which was thick and blue) was starting to bubble out my eyesockets (because I had filled up that far). I was getting ready to leave the table, and I was considering if I had enough energy to go look for the deepdark, when she spikes me through the Ren Meridian and all the water vanishes. I feel like a butterfly pinned to a mounting board and, when she leaves me there to quietly consider how fastened I am to the table, my eyes start spontaneously going into fits of Morse Code blinking. I can’t even replicate it consciously.

Which is different from the last time where I developed what felt like a pretty severe head twitch in a clockwise direction.

Anyway, it took me a while to find the water again, but I could never summon it back up to the level where it was before. That Ren Meridian point, by the way, is the one that regulates the water balance in the body. I found this out later, but I’m not terribly surprised.

Jeff Ford Just Made My Day

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I was following the discussion about PDK on Jeff Vandermeer’s blog earlier today, and got pulled into a discussion about the quality of Dick’s prose on a line-by-line level. Jeff Ford asked what I thought was sort of an inpertinent question and, before I tried to ask for an explanation, I wanted some background on why he might be taking that stance.

Which is an awfully long-winded way to say that I got around to reading Jeff Ford’s little story, “The Way He Does It,” today. It’s out of Mr. Klima’s little Zine That Could, Electric Velocipede, and there is a very good reason why the story is up for a World Fantasy Award this year. The story is online, it’s not more than a fifteen minute read, and it is, quite frankly, both minimalist and luminous. I am in awe.

The Distinction Between Reading and Writing

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I have a story in the Two Cranes Press anthology about food called “Mallory’s Quick-Quick Seduction Cookies,” in which the protagonist, one disgraced celebrity chef named Roderick Mallory, is caught going through airport Customs with a baby foot in his luggage. He’s hauled off for an interrogation session with some mean men from Homeland Security, and he manages to wrangle his way out by baking cookies. It’s a little more involved in that, as there is a bit of hocus-pocus to this world, and Mallory’s means of escape is via the suggestive ingredient he’s put into his no-bake cookies (a little contagious magic). What’s got me ruminating this morning is that this story is always referred to (to me, at least) as the “baby foot” story and not the “cum cookies” story (which is how I normally reference it). I’ve always been a bit puzzled by this, and I think I’m starting to understand why.

The baby foot thing is horrible. It’s a terrible terrible thing to contemplate and, if I do, yeah, I get all squirrelly and want every pair of shears in the world to be melted down NOW so that no parent would ever have to consider . . . you know. But, in the context of the story, I am unmoved by this detail. Why? Because I wrote it. I wrote it as a throw-away hook that would provoke a visceral reaction in the reader. I can’t see the line without knowing why it was written. I know it is manipulative, and therefore I am immune to it.

[That’s not to say that I’ve always been that way with stuff I’ve written. When I killed Ring many years ago in a Christmas story, I cried for an hour after I finished the chapter. ]

But there is a level of emotional detachment that comes with writing. I wil sometime chuckle at very inappropriate moments in films because I see what the writer and director are doing, and their craft, if you will, strike me (as a writer) as being very effective. Because I know I’m being manipulated, I am immune to what it is trying to accomplish. I don’t see the horror, because I see the manner in which is being evoked. Stephen King said something in an interview a long time ago (and this is a paraphrase from woefully poor memory, mind you): “If an elevator needs to drop on Grandma for a scene to work, I’ll drop one on her with no qualms whatsoever.” It’s a variation on “Kill Your Darlings.”

This train of thought came about this morning as I was casting about for something to read. Every book I picked up felt flat and uninteresting because I wasn’t able to connect to anything as a Reader, just as a Writer. And, when looking at the page from a writing standpoint, you don’t really see what is happening. You’re too busy dissecting lines and phrases and paragraphs for how they work (or don’t work). You’re too busy wondering why the author chose THAT word instead of six others that come to mind. And, when part of you is the mood to read for pleasure, for fun, for sheer thill of being told a story, you enter this odd world of right-angle disconnects. You can’t engage because you’re too busy taking things apart. You’re too busy being an Emotionally-Challenged Manipulative Bastard.

I think I left my Sense of Wonder in the sock drawer this morning. It’s busy marvelling at the cotton texture, staring in awe at the way the elastic is uncoiling in some of the older pairs.

It’s Coming On Dawn Over Here

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There’s a tiny sliver of moon sneaking over the roof the house next door to us. It seems like only yesterday it was full. Maybe it still is, and this is an unscheduled eclipse. I’m a bit out of the loop on the news cycle. Certainly seems this silvered sliver of fingernail has gotten brighter in the last few minutes. (That would be dawn coming, I suppose.)

I’m listening to The Black Dog’s “You Are Strange Mix”. It’s their head clearing mix, the one they listen to in the car while traveling to a go–the sort of noises that clear out all the detritus of modern civilization’s insistence on poisoning your brain. Though, in my case, I’m clearing out the dust of sleep.

I turned in Chapter 9 of HARRY last night. Chapter 10’s about half finished and I’m closing in on 11. There’s still a great deal of research to be done (though, I think, that will always be the case with all my projects), as well as a redirect stemming from the realization that I’m not quite as clever as I had thought. I mean, I knew I wasn’t, but I had thought that I gone a little further afield. Which is certainly alright. We’re all adapting and altering what’s been done before us anyway. Being forced to reconsider my resolution to this book has been fruitful actually, and I’m very curious to see where this new direction ends up.

HARRY is a full book, by the way. I ran the numbers last night. Here’s where we’re at.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
84,306 / 100,000
(84.3%)

Pretty silly for a “little” project. It’s certainly rooted and taken over the garden this past year. I’m not complaining. It’s just been an unexpected detour. Among other things that it has taught me, it’s been the first project of new material that I’ve done since the kids have come along (SOULS doesn’t quite count, as it has been in my head in some fashion for more than a decade), and it’s been insightful to realize just how little (or how much or how precious–it is all a matter of perspective) time I have. There has certainly been a lot of stripping away things that seem to detract from the purely creative time.

Nattering on here, for one. I recently had an excuse to look over the archive of my old website, and saw a number of posts containing material and commentary that still had some use to me, so I might try to bring back a little action to the otherwise moribund LJ.

That said, the sky is lightening. Time for me to go find a train, and work on the nodes for Chapter 10 of HARRY.

Serial Novel Update: Part 8

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Well, here we are. First the of the month again, and another installment of Harry Potemkin’s surreal adventures in Dreamland.

Last month, we left Harry being rather undignified at Nora’s wedding, as he got all maudlin and jumped on the coffin (or, rather, lost his mind and fell in the hole–it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?). Now, we follow him down into the deepdark, that place beneath the dream where identity gets slippery and the voices get really noisy. Yep, this is the month where Harry really truly loses his mind. And, since he’s gone bonkers, there’s no way for us to sneak into the other story lines this month. We just have to stick with our guide, until he can find his way back.

http://www.farragoswainscot.com/2007/potemkin.html

No cheat sheet this month, because there is only one route through the new content. Well, two. But, you’ll see. It’s hard to get lost on the links this time.